Officer Justified in Drawing Gun on Yale Student, Internal Investigation Finds

After a Yale College student complained about a campus police officer drawing his service weapon on him during the search for a burglar, Yale police conducted an internal investigation and determined that the officer's actions complied with department policy. However, the investigation did reveal some deficiencies in the policy.

On Jan. 24, a Yale police officer detained Tahj Blow, of the class of 2016, while investigating a burglary and "unholstered his weapon," according to a news release posted on Yale's website on Tuesday.  After the incident, Blow complained that the officer was unjustified in drawing his gun.

Blow is the son of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who blasted Yale police in a Jan. 26 opinion piece headlined "Library Visit, Then Held at Gunpoint: At Yale, the Police Detained My Son."

He wrote that column after his son called him, frightened, and said campus police held him at gunpoint while he was on the way back from the library.

According to Charles Blow, his son was told to "get on the ground" as an officer pointed a gun at him.

"This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete," Charles Blow wrote. "I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious 'club.'"

Tahj Blow wrote in a statment to police that he heard an officer say, "Hey, turn around!" and then "raised his gun at me, and told me to get on the ground."

"At this point, I stopped looking directly at the officer, and looked down towards the pavement," Blow said.

But Yale police concluded in the internal investigation that the officer in question "drew his firearm in the 'low ready' position, with his finger off the trigger at all times, and put his weapon back in its holster in a matter of seconds," according to the news release. "Low ready" position means that an officer points a gun "in the direction of, but not directly at" a suspect, according to the Yale police internal investigation report.

"The officer did not violate any Yale Police regulations regarding patrol procedures or the use of force, the report stated," according to the release.

Reports to police indicated an intruder "walking in and out of rooms in Trumbull College, one of Yale University's 12 undergraduate colleges, according to the release. There had also been a "recent rash" of burglaries on that campus and police were looking into whether the reported active one was related., police said in the internal investigation.

The investigation included reviewing students' 911 calls, including one that said the man spotted "was clearly not a college student."

In the calls, students described the intruder as an "extraordinarily tall black male" who was wearing a "black coat, red and white" beanie hat and shoes with "orange details," the release stated.

According to police, Blow matched that description and the first responding officer stopped him as a result.

"The officer called out to the student to stop, ordered him to lie down, ascertained that he was a Yale student, and relayed that information by radio to the Yale Police dispatcher," the release said.

The officer was 20 feet away from Blow, the shift commander instructed the officer to stay with Blow until police were certain he wasn't involved and the "event" lasted six minutes, according to police.

The incident ended when the officer heard another officer relay over police radio that he arrested a suspect in the burglary 200 feet from Cross Campus, according to police. The officer then told him the incident remained under investigation and that Blow could leave, but he'd contact him later.

The officer told investigators that Blow was "compliant, non-confrontational, and frightened."

Audio of the call revealed that the officer said "I have him right here" soon after receiving a description of the burglary suspect.

Video footage shows the officer facing the student as he walks away from him and then the officer draws his gun, points it toward the ground in the student's direction, police said in the report. The student then lies on the ground as the officer approaches him using the "low ready" technique, extending his hand as he gets closer, the video shows, according to the report. The officer reholstered his gun soon after, the video shows.

The detainment happened during a time of intense scrutiny of police nationwide and sensitivity about potential racial profiling following police calls that resulted in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Yale police were in touch with Blow to clarify why they stopped him and to interview him, according to the release.

"The investigation did identify three policy and training deficiencies of the Yale Police Department: the definitions of 'low ready' positioning of a firearm and 'pointing a firearm,' and the policy regarding the activation of a body video camera," according to the letter.

Charles Blow wrote in his New York Times column that the Yale College dean and Yale police chief apologized to him and informed him that the incident would be investigated, however he wrote that "the scars cannot be unmade."

"My son will always carry the memory of the day he left his college library and an officer trained a gun on him," Blow wrote in his New York Times column.

Yale College administrators and Yale Police Chief Ronald Higgins wrote in a letter to the community on March 3 that an independent review panel will consult with Yale to address concerns raised after the incident.

"This panel is reviewing the Yale Police Department’s investigation process to ensure that it meets the highest standards," Yale officials wrote. "We have also asked the panel to offer any recommendations it deems appropriate for the Yale Police to consider regarding relevant policies, procedures, and training; and to suggest actions that might be taken to continue to advance the goal of community policing and constructive interactions between police and students. We trust the panel will complete its work expeditiously, and, as with the internal report, we will share the panel’s findings when they are available."

College officials and Higgins said they acknowledge Blow "endured a deeply troubling experience" when he was detained.

"Our student deserves our support as we complete this process of review," Yale officials said in the letter. "We also must continue to recognize that this incident intersected – in ways that were both public and very painful – with current national conversations on race, prejudice, policing, and the use of force. As we said in our earlier message, these are important and difficult issues, and there are real challenges here that we, as members of the Yale community and as citizens, must face. We will be creating opportunities in the near future to discuss these challenges as a community and hope that you will participate."

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